This week I did something I hadn’t done before. I both read Elmore Leonard’s western, HOMBRE, and watched the Paul Newman movie based on the novel. Probably not a forgotten book, but one everybody should read, western fans or not.
The novel was first published in 1961 and the movie came out in 1967. Don’t know how I’d managed to miss them both all these years. The book is considered by many to be one of the twenty-five greatest westerns ever written and the movie has suddenly, after Butch Cassidy of course, become one of my favorite Paul Newman movies.
John Russell had been raised among the Apaches and was now coming to live among the white people.
He’s riding a stagecoach with a group of people who, upon learning he’s more Apache than white man, don’t want him riding with them. To keep the peace, he rides atop with the driver.
One of the passengers is the Indian agent for the area, his wife, another young woman who’d been a prisoner of the wild Apaches for a month, a young man who’s an employee of the stage line that’s shutting down, and a man that had forced his way onto the stage by taking the ticket of a soldier in a showdown at the station.
When a band robs the stage, the mysterious last passenger turns out to be the leader. They are after the Indian agent’s stolen money, acquired from ripping off the Indians of which he was supposed to be in charge.
As they are leaving, with the agent’s wife as well, intending to leave the rest on foot with no water, Russell pulls a Spencer rifle from his bedroll, kills one and his horse, driving the rest away. Now the passengers have the money and the water.
Needing Russell, the rest begin following him. This begins a game of hide and seek with the outlaws. They want the money and need the water. Russell’s not particularly enamored of them dragging along behind, but doesn’t discourage them.
The novel is told in first person, the young employee, Carl Allen, telling the story of John Russell and the battle with the outlaws. The movie sticks pretty close to the book, with a few changes. An extra woman passenger for one.
A good cast. With Newman, Martin Balsam plays the stage driver, Fredric March the Indian agent, Richard Boone the outlaw leader. Here the character gets a new name, the book name given to another member of the gang played by Cameron Mitchell.
I quite enjoyed them both. This is an instance where someone was respectful of the source material when making the film. It happens little too often.